Back when I was a student, my culinary repertoire stretched only as far as some half-remembered recipes from second year Home Economics classes (the apple crumble always turned out fine, but it’s best we don’t talk about my exploded mince pie biscuits or sausage and bean ‘casserole’). Yes, pancake day was an annual batter-based frustration, but I saw no real reason to expand my gastronomic horizons. Shrove Tuesday came but once a year, and why faff around with herbs and spatulas when you could eat crisps in bed all day instead?
Five years later, things couldn’t be more different. I still love a good bag of crisps, but turns out there is a greater pleasure in life than salt and vinegar Kettle Chips: getting quietly drunk in one’s kitchen while trying to recreate whatever Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall wrote about in Saturday’s Guardian magazine that week. The results are messy, fun, and often palatable. It is literally my favourite thing to do.
Some might question whether all the wine is really necessary. I say yes. Alcohol gives amateur chefs the confidence boost they often so desperately need in stressful dinner party situations. So what if you forgot to oven bake the butternut squash for an hour? Just chuck it in the microwave on high and see what happens. It’s easy to put professional chefs on a pedestal, and after the first bottle of Rioja you start to realise just how pedestrian many of their recipes actually are. Haha! See what I did there? All the wine. It makes you funny too.
Here’s my take on Hugh’s ‘autumn chilli’ from a few months ago – honed over the course of several, productively tipsy evenings alone in my kitchen. I trust you’ll find my improved recipe illuminating, not to mention utterly delicious.
Ross’s Boozy Autumn Chilli
3 tbsp sunflower, rapeseed or normal and perfectly usable olive oil that doesn’t cost £5 to buy
1 fennel bulb
2 garlic cloves
2-3 red chillies. (NB. Red chillies. Not orange chillies. These are known as ‘scotch bonnets’ and prove unbearably hot, apparently)
2 tsp cumin
¼ tsp ‘allspice’
400g tinned plum tomatoes
400g tinned beans
400ml veg stock (ie. 400ml hot water with two oxo cubes mixed in)
TOP TIP: Any one of the above ingredients is interchangeable with something of a similar colour at the bottom of your fridge!
1. It’s time to find your happy cooking place. Open a bottle of red wine (looks more likely to be part of the recipe than vodka) and select a banging soundtrack. Lady GaGa’s Fame Monster is my record of choice, though even Jessie J starts to sound alright after a glass or two.
2. Heat a sploshed approximation of 2 tbsps oil in a large saucepan. DO NOT BOIL. Slice the onions as neatly as possible and down a glass of wine if you find the process laborious. ‘Sweat the onions’ for 5 mins, which I take to mean ‘stir about in oil and avoid scorching’.
3. Add the pepper AND fennel, even if your boyfriend claims to hate it. It is a well known fact that fennel has no flavour. He will be none the wiser. Is the wine half-finished already? Gosh. ‘Sweat’ for another five minutes.
4. Throw in all the spices while inhaling as little as possible. Prepare the chillies as best you can, and stir the results in. Don’t worry, bits of stalk or a seed or two never harmed anyone. ‘Season well’. Have another glass of wine, you deserve it.
5. Add the tomatoes and puree, though I have never worked out what the puree actually does. ‘Simmer’, ie. DO NOT BOIL, for as long as it takes you to dice the aubergine into 1cm squares, which could be up to 45 minutes.
6. Drink more wine. Dance around a bit, pretending the bottle is a microphone. Dice the aubergine.
7. Heat another lesser splosh of oil in a different pan and fry the aubergine for 5 minutes, or until it starts to smell burned. Stir it all into the other pan, along with the stock and beans.
TOP TIP: If you buy Sainsbury’s kidney beans with added chilli, you can scrimp on the actual chillies at step 4! I should have probably mentioned that back there. Oh well. More wine?
8. Simmer (DON’T BOIL) for another hour, until ‘thick’ and ‘rich’. Basically for however long you can get away with before your guests start looking mutinous. Season with salt and pepper every time they poke their heads in so it looks like you’re doing something. Down what’s left of the wine.
9. Prepare a load of rice, flatbread or any other carbs you have to hand. Boiled potatoes will do in a pinch. Check reflection in toaster for signs of red wine lips.
10. Hugh’s original recipe called for homemade guacamole, but who has the time for that? I’ve been slaving away over a hot stove for five hours now, Whittingstall! Bundle some shop-bought stuff into a bowl and serve alongside the carbs, soured cream, and your Ross-style autumn chilli. Accept compliments graciously, and spit out stray chilli seeds behind your hand wherever possible.
This is all part of my ridiculously ill-judged attempt to Blog Every Day in May. I’m running even lower on wine than usual.